Sports & Outdoor

Our mission is to capture the bright green flag that’s lying, taunting us, in the middle of the indoor playing field at Sharjah Paintball Park, where we’ve been invited to brave a game of paintballing (it’s meant to be “team-building”).

It’s just sitting there, on top of a park bench, surrounded by space, with absolutely no cover. Aside from my heartbeat, all I can hear, faintly, is the referee counting down.

It’s been almost ten minutes since we started and neither team is any closer to taking home the prize.

“One minute left, one minute!” he yells.

All of a sudden, a riot of gunfire goes off, as a couple of us make a dash for it.

I’m just hiding behind what looks like a real-life, colourfully paint-stained relic of a London black cab, weighing up my options...

I could stay right here, trying to pick off my opponents one-by-one (with absolutely no success, if the last
ten minutes are anything to go by), or make a dash for it and be the heroine of the day.

With that in mind, I tap into my inner G.I. Jane and make my move, stepping out with trepidation from behind my safe-zone in a valiant bid to win Team A the round. A mere millisecond goes by and… SPLAT! I’m shot in the face. The world has gone orange and I stumble away, paintball gun held high in the air to signify I’m out, head bowed low in my shame.

Admittedly, I’m not very good at this. Fifty seconds later and it seems my colleague (and rival for the day) Emily has had the same idea, except she manages to not only secure the flag, but also take it safely back to base without a single paint mark.

Team B wins. It’s one-all.

For me, it’s a pretty similar story throughout the four games we play. I run back and forth, from the front to the back of the car, or I crouch low behind an open window, poking the tip of my gun out, ready to fire at the sight of even the slightest movement.

At one point, as a foolhardy opponent saunters from one cover to the next, I send a hail of gunfire in his direction (or near enough), only to find I’m shooting blanks – the paint pellets are stuck in the gun (and I’m pretty sure I didn’t notice that was happening for at least five minutes).

A couple of times I bravely venture out, only to get hit. I take a pellet to the shoulder, two to my knee, one smack-bang on the top of my head. I won’t lie, it hurts. And each time I sustain an injury, I timidly return to safety.

Luckily, my two teammates (and I’d like to point out at this point that we’re three against four) are having more luck. We go on to courageously win two out of the four matches, smashing both rounds of open-fire, as we (well, my teammates) go all Rambo on everyone. Aside from the Capture the Flag round, we also lose the mission to shoot their President, but not without a gallant effort,

I might add. If you think our bruises are bad, then you should see the other guys’.

You learn a lot about yourself on the paintball field – like how brave you are under the threat of open-fire, for example – and it’s a great way to find out more about your colleagues, or your other half (funnily enough, mine clearly believes he’s in an actual Call of Duty campaign).

Pain threshold notwithstanding, whether you’re playing in the outdoor fields, which are complete with aircrafts, bunkers and tunnels, or inside in the smaller, air-conditioned facility that’s decked out to look like the streets of London, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself and get swept away in the moment.

Trust me, it’s only a matter of minutes before you start envisioning yourself as a real-life Mad Max (or Imperator Furiosa), no matter how bad you actually are.

From Dhs100 per person (bronze package: 100 paintballs over two games). Open daily 10am-midnight. Golf and Shooting Club Sharjah, (050 203 2288).

It’s twilight as we sit in the stands at Yas Marina Circuit and watch the previous group speed around the track. Despite the roaring engines, it’s surprisingly peaceful and pretty with the twinkling lights of the Yas Viceroy and blazing sunset sky.

This, however, does nothing to calm our nerves, which have been building all day. We have barely any clue what to expect, we just know that we will be driving fast. Really fast. We hand over our driving licences and sign all the necessary disclaimer and insurance forms before being shown over to a rail of padded jumpsuits.

Next comes the brief. Abas, our instructor, whizzes through the car’s operation, including how to change gears, rules of the track and safety information. You should have prior knowledge of how to operate a manual gearbox before signing up to this experience. Although the Formula Yas 3000 car isn’t operated in exactly the same way as a standard manual car, the briefing won’t be in-depth enough for those with no experience at all, and you’ll be getting a feel for the track in a little manual Renault Clio first.

You pair up for this, and each person drives two loops while Abas gives a quick succession of instructions on gear changes and how to take turns via radio. Again, those with absolutely no experience driving a manual car will struggle.

We are split into two groups for the main event (each group gets around 20 minutes track time) and the butterflies return as we wait restlessly for our turn in group two.

The car
For this experience you’ll be hopping into a cosy single-seater car with a 3000cc V6 engine. The Formula Yas 3000 car is similar to those used by young drivers on the path to Formula One. F1 world champions Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel cut their teeth in cars like this one. It’s a super snug fit, and you’re tucked into your seat, low to the ground, and securely strapped in. It’s a very claustrophobic feeling, there’s barely an inch of space to move around, and the balaclava and heavy helmet are stifling in the heat (our experience was on an August evening). These are no go-karts. They are powerful vehicles, tricky to drive at high speeds and racing them requires lots of experience. The mirrors, for example, are tiny, and we struggle to understand how anyone could possibly have adequate visibility from them. Our heart is thumping as we wait to begin, and when we hear the first car’s engine roar to life our stomach starts to somersault. This is it.

The drive

It’s a juddery start for some with a stiffer clutch pedal than many will be used to, and several people stall a few times before they manage to get going, but as soon as we set off our nerves melt away and pure excitement takes over. We settle into fourth gear and take the first lap slowly.
No-one wants their experienced ruined by an adrenaline junkie who passed their test last week and think they’re the next Niki Lauda. Until you’ve really got the hang of driving these cars, being let loose on the track to race could be disastrous.

Thankfully, everything is exceptionally organised. During the briefing, we are warned to remain in single file at all times, and to follow the instructor – who will be driving at the front. After a preliminary lap of the track, all drivers are brought back into the pit and split into groups based on speed. Instructors communicate with each other via radio to do this, and each group is given their own instructor to follow.

Groups are shuffled several times, if needed, so that all drivers end up in the correct group and are able to drive at their preferred speed without hindering anyone else. It also means that faster drivers can lap other drivers easily. For example, if your group is about to be lapped, your instructor will lead you safely over to the right hand side of the track and slow down to allow the other group to pass before continuing.

Once all the shuffling has been done, you can really get into the groove of driving, and it’s nothing short of exhilarating. Our speed increases with each lap as our confidence grows, especially as we soar down the straight stretch of track at breathtaking speed and successfully pull off some knuckle-clenching 90-degrees turns. We feel like we could do this for hours.

The track
On our visit, the half of the course where the experience usually takes place was closed for maintenance, so we instead took to the more technically challenging tracks between the West Grandstand, Marina Grandstand, South Grandstand and Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi Hotel. It’s difficult to pick up speed – except for along one long, straight stretch – since most of the course snakes around tightly.

You’re more likely to be on the triangular section of track between the North Grandstand, West Grandstand and Main Grandstand. This half of Yas Marina Circuit is, on the whole, relatively smooth and mainly consists of long straights, leisurely curves and just a few tight turns.

It’s easier, which makes it ideal for beginners, and you’ll be able to reach higher speeds, so it’s equally ideal for thrill seekers.

The verdict
We would do this experience ten times over. The best thing about it is that there’s no pressure to drive at a fast speed, you can take the track at whatever pace you feel comfortable with. Anyone and everyone (with a driving licence) would enjoy it; it’s an absolutely brilliant taste of what it’s like to drive a single-seater racing car, and it will certainly give you a new appreciation for the skill involved in competitive racing.

From Dhs1,600, experience only (insurance and a video of the experience are available at additional cost). (02 659 9800).

What else can you do?

If Formula Yas 3000 doesn’t sound like it’s for you – or you’re ready and raring to try something else – check out one of these other adrenaline-pumping experiences on offer at the circuit.

Learn to drift
Learn the art of oversteering during a two and a half hour session in a Toyota GT 86. The session will cover the basics and how to navigate the drift course, including skid plate training and drift and transition sessions.
From Dhs1,000.

Yas Drift Nights
If you’re already a drifting dab hand, you can bring your own car down and hit the track. Each driver is allowed onto the course individually for two minutes at a time, and the sessions last for four hours.
Dhs600 (participant), Dhs100 (passenger), Dhs50 (crew), Dhs30 (spectator).

Aston Martin GT4
Give sports car racing a go in an Aston Martin with a 4.7-litre V8 engine. You’ll sit with an instructor for this experience, who will guide you through complex turns and give you technical feedback at the end of the session. A good one for those serious about the sport and keen to learn more.
From Dhs1,600.

Chevrolet Camaro Drag Racing
Drive an automatic Chevrolet Camaro SS, fitted with a 400-horsepower 6.2-litre V8 engine. After observing your instructor, you’ll be in the driver seat and, after some guidance and assessment, you’ll be allowed to take to the track alone and have a briefing following each of the subsequent eight runs.
From Dhs650.

Mercedes AMG
Hop into the passenger seat to experience the track in an AMG Mercedes GTS, CLS or E63. Great for those who want the thrill but don’t have a driving licence. Driving experiences in these cars are also available in the GTS, or try drag racing in the CLS or E63.
From Dhs550.


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